INTERVIEW

Tej Kumar Gujadhur

Founder, CEO & Board Director of GFin Corporate Services Ltd

Many see South Africa as the continent's next financial services hub, but it has a strong competitor: the island of Mauritius. Tej Kumar Gujadhur, founder, CEO and Board Director of GFin Corporate Services Ltd shares his views on the opportunities and challenges the financial services sector in Mauritius faces and why the island is an international financial centre.

“We have been blessed with a lot of intellectual capital that we now need to cultivate and supplement with economic diplomacy and regulation. We’re servicing clients globally, across time zones with a London-New York work ethic using technology without necessarily having to sit there.”

FDI Spotlight: Given your experience after working and living in some of the financial capitals of the world, what brought you back to Mauritius?

My own background is 20 years public practice in London, New York, and Dublin with Ernst & Young, then CFO and Partner of the Children’s Investment Fund, a $17 billion activist hedge fund, and then CFO of Apollo Global’s European distress and principal finance business. GFin Corporate Services Ltd is a five-year-old organisation, with 60 employees, 55 of whom are graduates, qualified accountants, chartered secretaries or lawyers.

There were two things that brought me back. One was family- I am Mauritian. I grew up here and have deep family ties. Second was the potential of the place. Quality of life is phenomenal and I think my two kids can get a much better childhood here, similar to what I got before I left 20 years ago.

Business in Mauritius previously meant you had hundreds of acres of land or you had something handed over to you. We live in a digital proprietary capital world today and the proprietary capital is what’s in your head- intellectual capital.

With service and intellectual capital money will come. The main drivers for us are our London-New York level of service, work ethic and intellectual capital. If one can marry all that with a high level of trust from one’s clients one can build a world class organisation from Mauritius. Which is what we are in the process of doing.

FDI Spotlight: Has it been challenging for you to find high standard human capital in Mauritius, similar to the London-New York standards?

Not very difficult. Those looking for a London style “off the shelf product” in Mauritius should stop looking. The “off the shelf product” is here, but it’s in the Mauritian style.

All our employees are Mauritian and 80% are female. They are fantastic and doing a great job servicing a global client network. Training and development are needed, but you need to bring some “magic sauce” to the table.

Our people have the willpower and hunger necessary to service clients at a global standard. They have grabbed the opportunities we have shown them. Therein lies, in my mind, on a micro start-up scale proof that Mauritius can do it. We’ve got people here who, with the right framing, can do it. I don’t need to go out and find people who have done 10 years in London and get them to come back.

FDI Spotlight: What technologies are you implementing to attend your global clientele?

We are a big fan of Microsoft to the point of having no Apple products- I have sacrificed all my own Apple products. We use Microsoft CRM, Microsoft Dynamics, Microsoft SharePoint and other Microsoft products. All our servers are on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform, continually backed up across different continents. All my staff are working in the cloud. We are built for flexibility, so this is where we physically work but we actually work from anywhere. We have people who work at 6am before breakfast and people who work at 10pm after dinner. We’re servicing clients globally, across time zones with a London-New York work ethic using technology without necessarily having to sit there.

We’re moving offices next month in our own building. We are using two of the floors right now and our faith in the product is such that we are leaving potential to scale. We’ve built the digital and physical capacity; we think the human capacity is around us. With a bit of support from regulatory and governmental organisations there’s a great business to be built, both for the country and for us.

FDI Spotlight: How different is Mauritian business culture compared to London or New York?

It is certainly different but that does not imply it is of lower quality, as demonstrated by the calibre of people we have employed for the work we deliver . The fact that it is different has been our competitive strength. Corporate culture, the way you build trust, and the way you execute in the professional services world is your product. Our product is our ability to execute in a trustworthy, cost-effective and world-class manner. The ability to execute on its own is not enough in today’s world. Combine it with technology that makes it as if we were sitting next to you in your office in London or New York. I think the gap that exists in the Mauritian context is what has allowed GFin to break in. It’s as simple as that: our competitive edge is the competitive disadvantage of others.

The culture is about good old-fashioned basics. It’s transparency, trust, a can-do attitude to deliver and doing so with a strong work ethic and a highly skilled workforce in a cost effective manner.

FDI Spotlight: Do you think Mauritius is already an international financial centre?

Yes, we all start somewhere. Mauritius started as a financial centre with India. We recently had a change to the Mauritius-India treaty, but that change will force a positive evolution of our product and service delivery over the long term. A lot of things have been learnt and trust built over time. We will have to adapt, but Mauritius and GFin have what it takes.

Mauritius today is a financial centre. Look at FDI flows into India and the deals and transactions happening. Look at the names who are comfortable today doing business in Mauritius. The amount of money transiting using Mauritius as the financial centre is impressive. The amount this brings to GDP, the number of jobs it brings, the fact that you can have a five-year-old start-up with 60 professional employees I think is evidence of that.

We have been blessed with a lot of intellectual capital that we now need to cultivate and supplement with economic diplomacy and regulation. You asked earlier about why I came back and I said family ties, but the ability to enter a place that was still at an early stage of development was another reason. You get the chance here of not just riding the highway but of building it too. There aren’t many other stable, democratic countries in the world that can say that you, as an investor, have a voice with government and regulators regarding the building of the highway.

FDI Spotlight: With the current global uncertainty, what can Mauritius do to maintain its competitive edge?

We live in a world which has seen a lot of instability since 2008 global financial crisis. Instability affects the rules and regulations around financial services. Clearly there is a lot of money transiting the world for good, for real business. I think Mauritius has positioned itself already, in a way, versus a few others where our competitive edge will come out over time. The way we transact in money, the way we establish norms, the way we are transparent. Our DNA as a multicultural democratic country with sophisticated systems will give us an edge. We won’t have to build the product, it will come to us as to what sort of money to deal with and what sort of money not to deal with.

I think that the fact we are an island projects an inherent bias in some people’s mind, but we have got to look at who’s using the Mauritius financial centre and for what purpose. I think that trend is very important, the way that we are accepted by the OECD as a white-list country, the global standards applied by our regulators (be it the Financial Services Commission or the Bank of Mauritius), the way we were amongst the first to implement FATCA, the way our banks operate in the world, the foreign direct investment flows from Mauritius and perhaps most importantly, the institutional trust in pooling funds in and continued usage of the jurisdiction speaks for itself. Making sure business carries on, but making sure it’s the right business. That will give us an edge as long as we maintain it.

FDI Spotlight: Is there a clear vision to position Mauritius as the international financial centre for the region?

In a nutshell, we’re a country of diverse cultures. We have no indigenous population. It has been said that we speak a bit of every language, but none fully. We’re a multicultural democracy with no historical issues. Do we therefore have one voice? No.

I think, though, that the government is playing ball, and promoting a single vision. The regulator is incredibly accessible but yet is tough (in a good way), which will be a huge advantage to come versus our peers. In that way I think that we will have a competitive edge. It brings short-term disruption but long-term trust, which is the biggest competitive advantage that you can build.

We don’t have some of the benefits of a country like Singapore in terms of being a regional hub among economic giants. We live in a multicultural democracy with free flows of capital and stability in a very different part of the world. Things come together, but they come together in time. Is the direction right? Absolutely. We can do it, we have beaten the odds before as a country and we will do it again.

FDI Spotlight: Looking into the next five years, how do you want GFin to be known as a regional and global player?

We’re already a global player. I don’t really buy the word “regional”. I think technology has made the world global and the regional connotation is left only for certain goods, but not services. Services have to be global. You can have a Pan-African bias but you need to be a global player, which GFin already is. Size is less relevant than having the right people, quality, trust and confidence of your clients.